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'Between Femininity, Feminism': The Golden Girls of 1960

August 09, 2000|KARIMA A. HAYNES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They were considered the most attractive, poised and active young women in local Democratic clubs in California. Outfitted in white dresses, wide-brimmed straw hats and dainty gloves, the "Golden Girls" were thoroughly instructed to fetch aspirin, deliver messages or arrange sightseeing excursions for the delegates to the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

And they were exhaustively prepped for their big moment at the convention: forming two lines on either side of the center aisle of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as Sen. John F. Kennedy strode to the podium to accept his party's nomination for president.

As the Democratic National Convention unfolds next week at Staples Center, there won't be a new generation of Golden Girls on hand to fulfill delegates' every whim.

But the convention will likely evoke memories for four surviving members of that distinctive group of 200 women who served their party and country by playing both hostess and activist.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 10, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo caption--In Wednesday's story about the Golden Girls of the Democratic National Convention of 1960 (" 'Between Femininity, Feminism': The Golden Girls of 1960), Moreen Blum was misidentified in a photo caption. Blum is second from right in the photo above.
PHOTO: (no caption)
PHOTOGRAPHER: BORIS YARO / Los Angeles Times

"We were the women between femininity and feminism," said Dorothy Gilden, 79, a former Golden Girl who now lives in Culver City. "We were women on the edge of a change."

The moniker "Golden Girls" was derived partly from the state's nickname and from Goldie Kennedy, the former state women's chairman of the Democratic Party, who came up with the idea for a contingent of hostesses to assist convention delegates.

The Golden Girls were more than just pretty faces, Gilden said. Many of the women used the hostess positions to get closer to the political action.

"The hostesses were not really hostesses, we were activists," she said. "We were feisty. We were liberals. And some of the delegates got uptight with us."

Although she had signed on to host visiting Illinois delegates, Gilden said her political activism got the best of her during convention week.

Gilden girded herself for a floor fight over the nomination among Sens. John F. Kennedy, Adlai E. Stevenson, Lyndon B. Johnson and Stuart Symington. But when she discovered that the entire Illinois delegation had committed to Kennedy rather than native son Stevenson, Gilden said she was dumbfounded.

"I was stunned," she said. "I think the father of JFK knew that his son was going to win the election. I became aware of machine politics. The lightbulb came on."

Although the notion of attractive women waiting hand and foot on mostly male delegates may be considered sexist by today's standards, back then it was a coveted role, said Nancy Williams, 77, of Beverly Glen Canyon.

Williams, who was a 37-year-old public relations manager at the time, said she willingly played the role of a hostess to build a client list and ultimately break through in a male-dominated industry.

"I was the only woman in my consulting firm, but I had an ego to match theirs," Williams said. "They were in the business of making contacts, and I met contacts at the convention."

As a hostess, Williams had entree into nearly every meeting, party, dinner, luncheon and one particularly memorable power breakfast at the old Alexander Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

"JFK was my breakfast partner," said Williams, who accompanied the Nevada delegation to the meeting. "He had that overpowering charm that made you feel that he was interested in you alone. It was a cultivated talent."

That personal, you're-the-only-one approach was a hallmark of the Kennedy campaign, Williams recalled. "The Kennedy people had a list of every single delegate from Nevada with the names of their spouses, children, occupation and hobby," Williams said. "This detailed reach and inner management of delegates made a chill run up and down my spine."

Golden Girl Ellen Jacobs went to the convention as a committed Stevenson supporter but came away an enthusiastic Kennedy backer.

"Kennedy was so dynamic, very charismatic and very good-looking," said Jacobs, who is now a 70-year-old retiree from Silver Lake. "He made you feel like you weren't making a mistake by backing him."

While serving as a convention hostess was a thrill, Jacobs said she is even more delighted to see how the role of women in politics has expanded over the years.

Back then, Clare Booth Luce was the most prominent woman on the national political scene, she said. "Now the president and chief executive of the L.A. Convention 2000 host committee is a woman"--Noelia Rodriguez.

Moreen Blum, 69, of Sherman Oaks said her Golden Girls experience allowed her an unprecedented access to political leaders and power brokers that is unheard of today.

Assigned to the Texas delegation, Blum rubbed elbows with LBJ and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. Now, average voters can't get anywhere near the convention hall.

"Back then, there was more extensive media coverage of the conventions," she observed. "Now, the major networks are trying to limit coverage. I feel very strongly that there should be gavel-to-gavel coverage because this is one of the most important events of this new century."

Looking back, Gilden, the Golden Girl from Culver City, said the 1960 convention was a milestone event in what would become a lifetime of community service and political activism.

"The convention strengthened my identity," she said, "and gave me confidence."

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